Other 休宁老街 highlights

June 30, 2014
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The houses on 老街 are narrow, but deep.  In warm weather, people leave both the front and back door open to let the breeze come straight through the house.

view through a laojie house

Between homes, there are often long alleyways leading to back gardens.

pathway between houses

Many of the walls around the gardens patches missing where years of the constant damp combined with frigid winters have pried apart the bricks.This weather wares out walls, but is great for corn, pumpkin, beans, tomatoes, and eggplant.

view of the garden

In the tiny village of 万安, where Xiuzhong is located, you get the feeling that the 老街 used to be a huge hub and has now gone into a kind of hibernation.  In Xiuning, however, the old street is still fairly bustling.  There are a lot of businesses, drawing in a steady flow of customers.  Some old signs, painted directly onto the walls mark businesses long-closed, while others created with the modern technology of laserjet show where you can get your computer fixed, or buy funeral garb for a departed relative.

sign of a long-closed store

And of course, on every 老街 that hasn’t been entirely remodeled for tourist purposes only (cough, Tunxi), you’re sure to see some Mao propaganda in faded paint, still visible on an old wooden wall.propaganda

A discussion of 老街 would not be complete without a mention of traffic.  According to the width, I’d say that this is barely even a one-way street.  It certainly wasn’t originally designed with cars in mind.  But this is China, so the street definitely takes two-way traffic, and no vehicle is too large.large vehicle on a narrow street xiuning laojie


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June 29, 2014

Today, we went to 休宁 (Xiuning).  We spent about half the time in Xiuning proper, and half in a village called 盐铺 (Yanpu, which means “salt store”–apparently they used to sell salt there).  There will be a post with lots of pictures of lotus flowers about 盐埔,but for now, a look at the Xiuning Old Street.

Quite unlike Tunxi Old Street, there is absolutely nothing touristy about this place.  It’s just a very old street where people live and run small businesses and hang their underwear out to dry (I know, I know, I’ve spent over two years here, but I still do a double take when I see something really lacy hanging on the bamboo pole in front of an old wooden house).

We went to 老街 in search of what’s generally acknowledged as the best local 面馆 (shop where you can get noodles, dumplings, or wontons, and not much else).  We found it, but apparently what makes it so great is that it’s insanely spicy, or, as the kid sitting across from me put it as he struggled through a big bowl of noodles in bright red soup, “辣死了!”

spicy noodles on Xiuning old street

You’ll note that the focal point of the picture, my bowl of wontons, is only 微辣, barely spicy.  It was very good, though I guess you haven’t really had the true 休宁老街 experience until you’ve gone full out 辣死了.  I’m okay with missing out a little.

Now, don’t be fooled that the above picture was taken in the 面馆 itself.  When we walked up to the restaurant and I commented that there were no empty seats (the place was tiny, only two tables crammed in behind the owner and his boiling vats), the owner was quick to exclaim “有!” and lead us into the clock maker’s shop next door where one big table was set up for 面馆 overflow.   There was plenty to look at while waiting for wontons.

clock shop

“Where are you from?” asked the owner.


“So is that clock.  USA.  1878.”

(it’s the one in the middle below)

an American clock in China

Honestly, I didn’t think the wontons were any better than what I get at any other shop in the area. But for the experience of looking at the clocks, and watching the old men sell beans, buttons, and fishing tackle from wooden carts across the way, I’d say it’s worth coming back.

the view of old street from the clock shop


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Completed French Fries!

June 29, 2014

The next day, we did proceed with the making of the french fries.  We followed the advice of online recipes, and fried them all once to start them cooking, and then frying them again to make them crispy.

Then we topped them with salt and cumin.

homemade french fries

I then ate a potato and a half worth of fries. The potatoes were not small.

I wonder how much money a fry shop could make in Tunxi…


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Happy Birthday LJL

June 27, 2014

Yesterday was LJL’s birthday.  Other than being the 27th anniversary of his birth, it was also the 1st anniversary of me and Sabrina’s last full day at Xiuzhong.  A year ago, it rained on his birthday and then absolutely poured the following day, as Mr. Wang and Mr. He were seeing us off.   The weather this year was an extremely precise repetition.

We originally planned to repeat last year as closely as possible, with dinner at the Smoky Willow (in Xiuning), and a home made fruit-themed birthday cake.  But then Mr. Wang invited me to dinner with the principal (of the seventy something days I’m here this summer, of course he picked yesterday), and although I told him honestly that I couldn’t make it because I needed to go to a friend’s birthday dinner, I still didn’t feel like bumping into him.

So, we stayed safely in Tunxi and had home made everything!

First course: fresh baked pita with my interpretation of babaganous.


If you think he doesn’t look happy, it’s because taking close-up pictures of eating food is an awkward endeavor.  My pita and eggplant sauce was awesome.

Next up, we had a, “we forgot to make the fries!” moment.  The day before, after we had fries at KFC (hey, this is the first time I’ve been there since arriving in China, except that time I got ice cream last week…), he was like, “we should make this.  I have potatoes.”  So, he started cutting up the potatoes.

fry-making step 1

As he was cutting, I decided to google “fry recipe,” even though it seems about as straight forward as cooking gets.  Cut potatoes.  Fry.  Fries.  Well, good thing I googled it.  The recipe for the “best fries” said you have to soak the fries for hours before frying them.  The recipe for “great fries” said you had to do the same!  I decided to settle for the recipe for “easy fries,” and when even that one said there’s a mandatory soaking period, I called out to LJL to stop just before our potato strips were plunged into the oil.  We stuck them in a bowl of water in the fridge for an overnight soak.

So, next, it was on to the cake.  I had already procured* and produced all of the pieces, so it was just a matter of assembly.  A step-by-step cake assembly guide, in photos:

IMG_0609   IMG_0630 IMG_0636 IMG_0655 IMG_0668

The calligraphy on top of the cake says “Happy Birthday.”  I think it looks awesome, so LJL told me to say I wrote it. 🙂  This is an apple cake, which is basically a carrot cake, except you use shredded apples instead of the carrots.

The one thing that was missing from this birthday celebration was the 长寿面, long noodles to symbolize a long life.  So, later at night we braved the rain to get some noodles, and the day was complete.

*the icing on the cake was obtained from a local bakery.  In China, I’ve found that if you ask someone to sell you something out of the ordinary (like a bag of icing), they will at first tell you they can’t do it.  But then, if you suggest a way for them to do it (just choose an item of equal value and suggest they ring that up and hand you some icing), they’ll usually agree.

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June 27, 2014
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This morning, as I was getting up, LJL suddenly called me to come into the living room.  Quick, quick, quick!

I ran over and together we watched the parade of cows.  As far as we could tell, no one was leading them, nor was anyone driving them from the back of the herd.  Can cows be trained or were these guys escaping?


Although Tunxi is the most urban district of Huangshan City, things like this remind me we’re still kind of in the middle of nowhere.

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June 25, 2014
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Despite what Google Translate will have you believe, this is not a strawberry.

Like the 枇杷, it is a fruit whose name I learned first in Chinese and eventually got around to looking up in English.  Translation dictionaries more reliable than Google will tell you that this is the waxberry, red bayberry, or Myrica rubra.

It is a little, spiky, tangy thing that is great for eating fresh (they say eating a lot of them is good for your stomach) and also, apparently, for making alcohol.  The waxberry season is very short, maybe just a week or two, so unless you’re consuming them dried or in booze, you have a very limited time-frame to enjoy them.  Some (rare) souls ferment the berries directly, while most people just submerge them in a vat of 白酒 (that absolutely repulsive kind of Chinese alcohol that my students always mistakenly translated as “white wine.”).

waxberry alcohol

Since I can’t imagine any way to make 白酒 worse, I have no doubt that this does, in fact make it more palatable.  All the same, I do not partake in the resulting 杨梅酒。I’ll take my waxberries fresh, thank you very much.

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Small town

June 24, 2014
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Just got back from an evening out in Tunxi, and who should we run into while crossing the old bridge but (fellow 外教) Alex and his parents!  The population of Huangshan is about the same as that of St. Louis, but much denser.  Almost every time we go out, we run into someone LJL knows.  I usually figure it’s because he knows a lot of people.  But I only know about ten people (not counting high school students), so it’s more impressive when we run into someone I know.  Small world.

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June 24, 2014

After dinner last night, I went to Tunxi Old Street with my students.  I really like 老街, as a place to wander around and look at things.  But you can expect anything you find there to be marked up.

As Eyre said, “I’ve never been to 老街 with a foreigner before!  But whenever I’m there, I always see all the 老板s (owners of the shops) trying to convince foreigners that the things they sell are worth a lot of money.”

Frankly, I can’t blame them.  According to my student Christina, rent for a shop on the 老街 is ten times the price of the same sized shop in Xiuning.  And I believe it.  Buying a fan on 老街 is like buying a beverage at Six Flags.

tunxi laojie

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June 24, 2014
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Today, my students get their 高考 scores.  Yesterday, I spent a long time with two students, chatting, playing ukulele, listening to high school gossip (so many inter-student relationships and crushes I never suspected–and also so many that were so obvious!).  I felt especially honored to get to spend yesterday with students because it was their final day in 高考 limbo.  Today, they find out about their college prospects.

As one student, Eyre, put it, “You never want to know the score.  You hope it will never come out.  But you also just want to know immediately.”

Really wishing these kids the best.


The baseline score for getting into a college just came out: 489.  QQ is abuzz, as this is apparently low, so a lot of kids who thought they totally botched the exam are feeling a bit more hopeful.  Seems like it was a really hard test this year.  About twenty minutes till they will know their scores now…



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The road back to Huangshan

June 20, 2014
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After three days in Hefei, we came back home.  The first two hours of the drive were pretty monotonous–a continuation of the Hefei overall grayness.  Gray buildings, gray sky.

But when we started approaching 九华山,a mountain famous for Buddhist stuff, the sky gradually changed back to blue with (real) clouds.  From 九华山 to 黄山 (Huangshan) itself the land stays mountainous.  Villages of white-walled buildings with dark gray tiled roofs sit neatly in the valleys between the hills striped with neat rows of tea bushes.  And of course, the mountains are wrapped perfectly in clouds, just as they should be in any proper Chinese scroll painting.  The edges of Huangshan are visible from the highway, peeking through the fog.  Today would have been a great day for a hike there, if not for the intermittent rain.

Now, I’m sitting in the kitchen, listening to the rain, and proofing yeast for a double batch of challah. It’s good to be back.

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